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What is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological condition associated with abnormal sensations in the legs. It is estimated that 5% of the general population and as many as 10%  of those over the age of 65 have this disorder.

There are four primary features of RLS:

  • Uncomfortable sensation in the legs with a clear need or urge to move the legs. The sensation may be described in many different ways, from aching and pulling to creepy crawling feelings. The sensations can also be painful, not just uncomfortable. In the end, all sufferers can clearly identify a need or urge to move the legs as a driving force behind their complaint. These sensations usually occur in the calf area, but may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. One or both legs may be affected. For some people, the sensations are also felt in the arms. People with RLS have an irresistible urge to move the affected limb when the sensations occur.
  • The symptoms are worse at night. Symptoms may present only at bedtime or they may start in the evening when trying to sit for any period of time. Sleep problems are common with RLS because of the difficulty it causes in getting to sleep. Some individuals may have symptoms throughout the day, but these symptoms will always be worse at night and better sometime in the morning.
  • The symptoms come on with rest. Whether trying to lie quiet at bedtime or sitting through a long plane flight during the day, the sensations are likely to strike. Whether trying to sit through a movie or quietly reading a book, the symptoms will make what used to be an enjoyable event a most unbearable one. You cannot rest; you cannot relax; you cannot sleep another night.
  • The symptoms are relieved with movement. All sufferers learn quickly that getting up and walking will immediately relieve the symptoms. However, as soon as the individual settles back into a restful state, the symptoms will usually return. Any movement of the legs will usually bring about some immediate, although temporary relief. If the legs are not moved, they may jump on their own. In some individuals, there may be semi-involuntary movements of the legs preceded by only a very brief sensation. Most individuals with restless legs syndrome will have rhythmic or semi-rhythmic movements of their legs while they are asleep. Although they may not be aware of their movement, usually their bed partner is. It is this movement of the legs, this constant walking to ward off the sensation that gives the viewer the perception of the sufferer being restless, thus the term "Restless Legs Syndrome".
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